Lahore High Court (LHC) on Friday reinstated PML-Q leader Parvez Elahi as Punjab chief minister after he gave a written assurance to the court that he would not dissolve the provincial assembly until the next hearing on January 11, 2023.
A LHC five-member bench headed by Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh and comprising Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Iqbal, Justice Tariq Saleem Sheikh, Justice Asim Hafeez and Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabir passed the orders on the petition moved by Parvez Elahi challenging de-notification orders issued by Punjab Governor Baligh-ur-Rehman. At the outset of the proceedings, Barrister Ali Zafar, who was representing Elahi, contended that his client was an elected member of the provincial assembly, and was elected as the Punjab chief minister on July 22.
Barrister Zafar told the court that he had got the required number of votes in the provincial assembly but the then deputy speaker had removed 10 votes and the matter was subsequently taken to the Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court in its verdict invalidated the ruling of the deputy speaker and held that Elahi was lawfully the chief executive of the province,” he argued. Zafar also argued that a no-confidence vote was the only way to remove a chief minister, pointing out that the members who elected a chief minister could remove him.
“If the governor thinks that the chief minister has lost his majority, he can ask for a vote of confidence and a separate session can be held for it,” said Barrister Zafar. The governor, Zafar argued, could not determine the day and time for the vote of confidence. At this, the court asked the counsel to apprise the court whether a timeframe of three to seven days could be given for a vote of no-confidence. On it, Barrister Zafar replied, “There is a certain procedure for the vote of confidence under which members are given a notice”.
At this, the court raised a question if voting could be conducted on the same day the notices were issued. Barrister Zafar replied, “It is the power of the speaker that he can issue notices and can hold voting on the same day.” He also apprised the court that “the governor can only pass the orders if the speaker sets a day for a vote of confidence and the chief minister does not attend it.” The petitioner’s counsel, however, argued that his client objected to a vote of confidence, arguing that the assembly had to be called by the speaker as the chief minister could not do the same. He asked how could the governor issue orders when a session was not held.
“It’s like punishing a third person when two people are fighting,” argued Barrister Zafar. At this, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh remarked, “The governor’s orders should have been followed if he had called for a vote of confidence”. The counsel said, “The crisis could end if a time for voting was given. The entire business of calling the assembly sessions for a vote of confidence could still be conducted.” But this, he argued, was possible if the de-notification orders were set aside. At this, Justice Abid Aziz Sheikh observed that the court could decide this case under the law.
Barrister Zafar contended that multiple projects were underway in Punjab and the cabinet could survive if the chief minister stayed. The judge, however, observed that the governor had given instructions to Elahi to stay in office until a new chief minister was elected. Justice Sheikh also sought assurance from Barrister Zafar, asking him, “what are the chances that you [the petitioner] will not dissolve the assembly if the court suspends the de-notification orders and restores you [petitioner Elahi]”.
“We’re here to decide if you give us an undertaking that the assembly will not be dissolved,” remarked Justice Sheikh, asking the petitioner’s counsel to consult his client and get assurance from him that the assembly would not be dissolved until the confidence vote was sought. The counsel submitted “written assurance” that the assembly would not be dissolved. “If me and my cabinet are reinstated, then I will not send the assembly dissolution summary to the governor till the next hearing,” said the undertaking by Elahi, which was read loudly by Barrister Zafar in the court.